This was just fun to watch.
The animation is superb, the story line is winsome, the
characters have depth, and there's just enough whimsy and fanciful
asides to make it all enjoyable.
Moana (Auli'i Cravalho) is a teenage girl who's grown up as the
village chief's daughter, but she doesn't wear the “princess”
crown easily. She's OK
with some of the ceremonial functions, but soon she gets restless, and
yearns to be on the open sea. Her
Dad, Chief Tui (Temeura Morrison), has forbidden the islanders from
venturing beyond the reef, even when the fishing dries up and the
coconuts develop some strange blight.
It seems he had a negative experience on the open sea when
younger, and he's convinced everybody it's too dangerous.
But his Mother, Gramma Tala (Rachel House) is much more attuned
to the sea, and much more a free spirit than her over-responsible son.
She encourages Moana to go explore, as their ancestors did, and find
out who she is---not to mention finding a way for her people to
sojourn somewhere else. Moana
definitely feels the lure of the open ocean.
As a small child, she dreamed that the sea chose her for a
special task, but Gramma Tala tells her it was more than a dream, it's
Gramma Tala tells Moana the mythology of their Polynesian
people, that Maui, the demigod, could deliver them with the magic
fishook the gods gave him, but he must defeat the evil Sina, from whom
he stole the heart that allowed him to give the gifts of fire, and
coconuts, to the humans. After
Gramma Tala's deathbed request, Moana embarks on her epic adventure,
with only her dumb chicken, HeiHei, as a companion (his job is to keep
it light). When Moana
finally meets Maui (Dwayne Johnson), it turns out he has some issues.
He's quite full of himself, and he's not really interested in
meeting Sina again, and he doesn't really care if Moana achieves her
goals or not. Here, the
mythology somewhat reflects the dynamics of the Greek pantheon, where
gods were sometimes selfish and cruel, and demigods (like Hercules)
were a mixed bag, as well.
Without a lot of explanation about the cosmology, the Sea
itself has a life and a will of its own.
And Sina, though ostensibly full of fire and fury, is not how
she first appears, either. Along
the way, Moana learns that she has resourcefulness and fearlessness
that becomes more evident in challenging situations.
Though she learns some accomodation and cooperation skills, she
also develops some strong self-reliance, which will serve her well no
matter where she goes, including back to her native village to assume
her leadership role.
One of this reviewer's pet peeves is to cast adults as
teenagers, even for voice parts, but here's a rare refreshing example
of doing the casting right: newcomer
Auli'i Cravalho is just now turning sixteen, and her youthful
exuberance just shines through in both her voice acting and in her
singing. Dwayne Johnson
turns out to be a serviceable crooner himself.
But this is Cravalho's show.
And she excels in the lead role.
Female empowerment by cartoon, anyone?